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February 3rd, 2009
08:16 PM ET

What keeps Barack Obama up at night? – and other questions I asked the President today

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/02/03/obama.daschle/art.obama.ac.cnn.jpg caption="President Barack Obama is interviewed by Anderson Cooper on Tuesday."]
Editor's Note: See Anderson's full interview with President Obama tonight on AC360° at 10PM ET.

Anderson Cooper

The Oval Office is smaller than I thought it would be. Maybe it’s just because it was filled with lights and some of the furniture was moved around for the cameras, but it was more intimate than I had imagined. I’d heard President Obama likes to keep the Oval Office warm, but I was still surprised to feel the heat emanating from the open door. Katie Couric was just finishing her interview when I got there, “Wow, it really is hot in there,” I mentioned to David Axelrod who was standing nearby. “They’ve actually cooled it down a bit,” he said.

I’d met then-candidate Obama a couple times over the course of the campaign. I moderated the YouTube debate that he took part in, and I spent a day with him on the campaign trail, but this was my first time talking with him as President. I never interviewed President Bush. I’m not sure if it was my coverage of Hurricane Katrina or what, but the Bush White House never seemed to respond to our requests for interviews. Go figure.

Today, like all the other network anchors, we were told we only had ten minutes to interview President Obama, so I stayed up late last night and spent most of today whittling down a long list of questions. I also consulted with a number of our great political correspondents to see if they had questions they would want asked. I went into the interview with eighteen questions written down, but the truth is once the conversation started I found myself asking things I hadn’t planned on, and ignoring other questions I was sure I was going to ask. I think the best interviews are genuine conversations, and with the President I tried to just listen, and then respond based on things he brought up. Sometimes I watch interviews on tv and I feel like the questioner has a list of topics to cover and is simply checking them off as they go along.

In addition to asking him about Tom Daschle, and the economic stimulus plan, I also wanted to hear him talk about some subjects he hasn’t discussed lately. I asked him what if anything keeps him up at night, and was surprised by his candid response, a response he actually came back to later in the interview to talk more about. It’s rare for a President to ever say he made a mistake. President Obama not only said that today, he said, “I screwed up” when talking about the Daschle nomination. That surprised me. Though it was clearly a tough day for him politically, the President, in person, is remarkably poised. “Cool” is the term often used, and it does apply. The other words I found myself thinking about to describe him were, “calm,” “sharp,” “on point.” He was dressed neatly, and his nails trimmed. I still occasionally bite my nails, and long-term nail-biters like me tend to notice when someone else doesn’t.

When you interview the President someone stands in your line of sight and gives you hand cues counting down the minutes. It can be distracting. At times as you are listening to the President respond, you want to ask him to hurry it up so you can get in a few more questions, but thankfully I resisted the impulse. At the end I wanted to make sure to save a few minutes to ask him some lighter more personal questions. I called it a lightning round, and he was nice to play along. I asked him about the dog search, what he likes most about his new high tech car, and whether or not he’s had a cigarette since becoming President. I think you will be interested to hear his answer to those and many other questions tonite on 360 at 10pm.

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Filed under: Anderson Cooper • Barack Obama • Raw Politics
soundoff (387 Responses)
  1. Hank

    I'm so fed up with most of the reporters at CNN's lack of objectivity, it is quite refreshing that yours sir. Great interview with President Obama! Of your panalist during your show...David Gergen is ALWAYS on point! His voice is always one I make sure I listen to whenever he is on CNN. Why? Because he is logical and doesn't play the Democrat or Republican game when giving his viewpoint of a situation. Though I respect Ed Rollins, I can't always say the same for him.
    The President is a true leader, as true leaders will take responsibility for mistakes that happen in their organizations...even when they may not be directly responsible for those mistakes. So I appreciate him doing that. It too was refreshing. Tom Daschele should never have allowed his name to go forward knowing he hadn't paid his taxes. Period. He's a good man that made an error. He is not the criminal, however, that the Republican strategist on Larry King's show tried to make him out to be. The only people that will continue to talk about this matter now will be the Republicans...and those in the media that seem to take a certain glee with anything that they perceive this president has done wrong or not up to whatever their standards happen to be...even though he has only been on the job for 15 days. The guy is doing a good if not great job as is evidenced by his approval rating, yet and still, one would think that with the two persons that withdrew their names today for cabinet consideration because of income tax issues, that it was the end of the Obama administration! And per the stimulus package...the Republicans all of a sudden have a King Solomon complex regarding the finances of this country, because as the President told you in the interview tonight, they have had 6-8 years to deal with the matter and haven't done a very good job; and now all of a sudden with this guy being on the job for 15 days...POOF...they know how to fix the entire matter? PLEASE?! I'm sure by President's Day, there will be a stimulus bill on the President's desk ready for his signature that the Democrats and the Republicans have put together. Until then, people need to take a freakin chill pill! That would include Roland Martin, for in looking at your show during the panel discussion, I thought he was going to have a stroke when talking about all that President Obama hadn't done or better do or else! That brother needs to take some being cool lessons fromn David Gergen...or better yet...President Obama. For if he is keeping his cool, surely everybody else should follow his lead. Again Anderson, good job.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
  2. Heidi Ann Berg

    i am glad you asked him personal questions to it's nice to get to know are own president on a personal level.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
  3. Liz

    I think President Obama was too candid when he admited he screwed up. That was a shocker. Some view it as a good dose of honesty, some vew it as a weakness. Weakness is not what you want to portray to the foes of the world. The American people have to understand that when he is talking the world listens....and we want our president to be strong and powerfull.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:04 pm |
  4. Marjorie

    Anderson, you did great. We love you Anderson. We love you even more with the President. Can't you be appointed to Communications Director or something. 🙂

    OK, back to the issues. We'll get there. It has only been 2 weeks. I think his whole admisnistration plans to get down to business. I have confidence that things are being worked on in order to clean this mess and also minimize the possibility of this type of fiscal situation happening again

    You have to do more interviews of him. You really brought out the some good stuff, that only you can. He should definately keep you close. He knows you have intergrity and will be fair. I sense that you see that in him as well.

    Great first interview. Look forward to the many more in years to come.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:03 pm |
  5. sherry martin (maryland)

    and so what if the president still smokes you can't hold that against him he is human like anyone else

    February 3, 2009 at 11:03 pm |
  6. Suz

    I am happy to know that we had 2 of 3 pull out. The bloggers who feel that we are too hard on our president need to realize that we voted for a change in Washington. If this administration does not walk the fine line they will be eaten alive. It is all of us who voted for him that need to not make excuses for him but to remind him of his promises and keep him true to the campaign.

    Besides the errors of the past administration, we also do not want a replay of The Emperors New Clothes where people are afraid to speak up if there are problems. We are not criticizing as much as ... errr "Keeping them Honest" I still support our President. Thank God I live in the USA where I can disagree with someone even when I support them and not fear a rerun of the "Dixie Chicks" retaliation.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:02 pm |
  7. Ugonna Wosu

    "teresa has a good point. People shouldn’t give Obama a pass because he admitted it. If Blagojevich admitted it, should we say , “Well, we’ll keep him around – at least he admitted he screwed up !” You have to look at WHAT THE MISTAKE IS. He almost put ANOTHER tax cheat in a Cabinet position, but GOT CAUGHT!"

    so? What are we supposed to do about it? It was done, the guy withdrew. At least he apologized, which is something your Bush pres. couldn't do. Whether he means it or not, he said "I screwed up", and that goes a long way into showing that he knows Americans are disappointed.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:02 pm |
  8. Jo ann Foxworth

    Who cares if he smokes a cigarette now and then at least he admits he inhales. What i would like to know is why the media is still calling him Mr Obama, and the Obamas

    February 3, 2009 at 11:01 pm |
  9. MLH

    Anderson~You and President Barack Obama are a winning combination and I enjoyed your interview and conversation with him.

    February 3, 2009 at 11:00 pm |
  10. Sophia (Illinois)

    Anderson..

    So glad to see that you had the oppty to interview our new president. I know that he will make mistakes, but I do hope that overall, that he will be the president of change.

    You always do a wonderful job.

    Best regards..
    A loyal CNN watcher..
    Sophia..Chicago

    February 3, 2009 at 10:59 pm |
  11. Johnny Bone

    You do a great job at your job Anderson! Thanks and keep bringing it. A new fan.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:57 pm |
  12. Mary Jean from S.C.

    Great show tonight. Be safe in the weather.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  13. Stan

    At least he has the balls to say he "scewed up". Bush would not even acknowledge all the major screw ups he pulled and there were many. We're all only human. We all make mistakes. Just be man enough to admitt it.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  14. victoria

    I think that people need not to focus on what pres. obama cant do and focus on what he did not do and that is get us in this mess. plase dont forget bush put us here.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  15. Irfan

    You have to make the activity " delivering the currency from treasury
    to business " a non profitable activity. This will revive your economy!

    Irfan

    India

    February 3, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
  16. Ashley - Hamlin, NY

    Cooper, if you actually read all these responses and get to mine...well, you're beyond any journalist I know and border on the cusp of superhero. I have to admit that I'm about halfway through your book – seeking some sort of inspiration as a journalism/poli sci major...and it just hit me again as I read your blog. My point is: I've never read writing quite like yours. I don't know how to describe it...it sinks into you.

    Anyways, I have to congratulate you on what a candid and thought-provoking interview you did with President Obama. (And you're better off not interviewing former Pres. Bush – your coverage of Katrina was much more meaningful). I have my first televised interview tomorrow, and it was quite a nice guideline, if you will.

    Keep up the good work and I'll keep watching.

    A fellow nailbiter,

    Ash

    February 3, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  17. AVillasenor

    Anderson, great interview. You did a great job. As usual, Pres Obama is
    is reassuring as usual. The American people appreciate an honest president who admits mistakes. Nobody's perfect. Unlike the prior president who was constantly in denial about the WMD's until it was not staring him in the face.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  18. Susan Lee

    Good interview, and enjoyed the questions,,,It is nice to have an articulate, thoughtful response from a President. I enjoyed your comments on your blog..and I don't think President Obama is on TV too much,,,but these last 2 weeks seem like years..I think we need to continue to hear from him and be kept appraised of what's going on with the economy.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  19. sherry martin (maryland)

    my boyfriend voted for obama there is 5 of us here and scraping to try and make ends meet but we can't if there going to be any help for the americans?

    February 3, 2009 at 10:55 pm |
  20. Leslie

    The President should be able to walk, talk and say what he wants to say. Too bad if the truth hurts but I applaud anyone who admits their mistakes.

    Whose ever doing your investigations into the pending staff needs to do a better job, they aren't digging deep enough. Too bad you can't find people who haven't rob their own Gov't while collecting a Gov't check.

    THANK YOU MR. PRESIDENT! I know have a reason to pledge the flag.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:53 pm |
  21. sherry

    what is the president going to do to help the poor and disabled people that really need help?

    February 3, 2009 at 10:50 pm |
  22. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    Hi Anderson. Good questions, and a good interview. The pup search looks like it's still on hold. Perhaps the President will have a light bulb moment and make a decision before the girls go to college!

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:49 pm |
  23. Carol kaplan

    Please stop asking the President if he has smoked. Leave him alone about that! Next you'll ask him about his personal relationship with Michelle. Just don't put him on the spot about an occasional smoke, if you were under that kind of stress you might do worse.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:47 pm |
  24. Semhar

    Hi Anderson thank you interviewing President Barack Obama. As you say he is calm, sharp, cool and presistant. and i like the word he uses. He speaks very percisely.
    we are lucky to have him as our president. i wish people would stop judging him so that he can be focuse in what he does.
    You are Awesome Anderson Thanks again

    February 3, 2009 at 10:47 pm |
  25. Christopher, California

    Finally...a President who is in touch with the American people, can put an English sentence together and truly has a command of the issues. Great interview, Anderson.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:46 pm |
  26. Maryalice

    Well, maybe I missed it, but are the Ty dolls, Malia and Sasha, going to be available to the public or not?

    February 3, 2009 at 10:44 pm |
  27. Antoinette - NY

    Anderson,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. You are interesting and intelligent. You were kind to thank your colleagues for their assistance as well. You are a true gentleman!

    February 3, 2009 at 10:42 pm |
  28. Adriana

    Great interview! Sorry you didn't have more time with the President...

    February 3, 2009 at 10:42 pm |
  29. Wendy in Harwinton, CT

    Anderson – great job on the interview – and VERY cool that you thanked the researchers who supported you. Hey – you really oughta refer to him as President Obama rather than Mr. Obama – I think!

    February 3, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  30. Lisa B

    Hi AC,
    I'm watching the interview right now and it's really good. You guys seemed to have a really good flow going on(i.e: he wasn't resistant to your often pointed questions, no dodging, etc.). Like many of the previous bloggers, I wish you'd had more time with him (why's he making so many concessions to the Senate republicans? why'd he respond to/mention Rush? and if he was going to make all these changes to his bill, why'd he just allow Democrats and Nancy to write the original bill? Why wasn't the supposedly bi-partisan bill written "bi-partisanly "(is that even a word?) originally?
    I feel badly for him(but I still love him, even though his popularity is now down to as you've cited , 64%) especially about his picks w/ tax problems. This must be so hard for him. But i remember the day after his swearing in, where he expressed this wonderfully innocent desire for us to become this kind of eutopic society where honesty, trust and all that good stuff would be the status quo, and I remember thinking that he was setting the bar too high, how he should have just set it 4 inches higher than Bush and gradually work his way up, but now he's caught in a trap of his own making, or maybe that's just my own inner slacker talking.
    p.s-I've never liked watching the news, and I only ever broke with my dislike of news watching for Peter Jenings, but I believe, I'll be watching more AC360.
    p.p.s-good catch with the smoking thing, he said "not on these grounds."

    February 3, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  31. Danny

    First off, this is a good start for Obama. Now if he would only do it for the other people he appointed to office. I find it amusing that yesterday he was standing behind Daschle 100%, expressing his confidence in him. Now finally, after Daschle himself admits a mistake and rightfully steps down from consideration, does Obama admit he was wrong. The only reason he did this is to protect his image. If Daschle doesn't admit his mistake, Obama never would have either. Timothy Geithner is a perfect example.

    I haven't seen the interview yet, but I sure hope that one of the questions that made the cut was his lack of transparency and exceptions to the "rules" about lobbyists he has made. I would rather know this than whether or not he has smoked a cigarette. I would also like to hear his explanation to some of the items in the stimulus package, such as the money for "paid volunteers" and hybrid vehicles for the government.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:35 pm |
  32. Mark Rodrigo

    So what if the president is still smoking? I can't believe you even asked this question. It's nobody's business, and he can smoke as much as he wants as far as I am concerned. Leave that man to have a vice. Gees. Stupid question!

    February 3, 2009 at 10:33 pm |
  33. Shant

    It was a nice interview Anderson. As you have pointed out, asking questions as a follow up on the natural conversation brings out lively interview (as opposed to the prepared questions).

    Thank You Mr.President. Can we pose questions on how we could reduce the dependency of the free market economy on the big player finance companies? The Game theory talks about how things can level out, if there are more players. How to create more players?

    With regard to bonus I still hear that Fannie Mae employees still got minimum $5K and a billions of dollars in wall-street firms. How do we control this?

    February 3, 2009 at 10:30 pm |
  34. Chuck

    Anderson, good interview. There was no way the Bush White House would have allowed YOU do an interview with "W". You would have insisted on asking tough questions and that was not allowed. Remember how the interview with Carol Coleman from an Irish tv station nearly caused a diplomatic incident? "W" looked like a fool and a subsequent scheduled interview with Laura was cancelled as Colemans punishment for asking 'real' questions and not the 'soft' ones "W"s handlers prefered.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:28 pm |
  35. Gaurang (India)

    I cannot get enough of President Obama's interviews. He is a great interviewer and has shades of being diplomatic and shades of being point-blank, straightforward. Thanks Anderson.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  36. Roberta

    It's sad that Americans are so desperate that they will excuse tax evasion on the part of politicians in the hope that said politicians will propose legislation to alleviate their distress. It matters not that Obama admits that he "screwed up." The Presidency is not the place to "learn on the job."

    February 3, 2009 at 10:27 pm |
  37. Parvath

    The world probably has never seen a president, who can be too honest to his fellow citizens and willing to accept if things go wrong. Pres. Obama is here to change the way politics is done and stands as an example to the world politicians. Can't wait to see the changes he is about to bring to the country. All the best president!

    February 3, 2009 at 10:24 pm |
  38. Nattada, Houston TX

    I enjoy reading your blog today.

    Great interview, Anderson. You did a really good job.
    You are also remarkably poised, if I may say so.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:24 pm |
  39. Pat Canada

    Anderson I commend Obama for being so forthright in saying how he feels, admitting he make a mistake. Anyone can make them, I should know, but it takes Great Men and Women to admit it. People in general tend to have a much greater sense of admiration and trust for those who are so honest.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:23 pm |
  40. Susan

    I just realized why President Bush never granted you an interview. You would ask questions that he wouldn't be able to answer. President Obama is really answering these questions, and he doesn't have a teleprompter. I doubt Bush knew how to answer anything... He was a C student in school and he was a D leader for our nation.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:19 pm |
  41. Edoe, Ireland

    I can wait to watch your entire interview with the president Obama, because what is matter with america is matter to us, especially in Europe, I was very impressed by your comments about the president being "CALM","SHARP", "POINT" during the interview even though he admitted his mistates, i beleived he is an honest and open president compare to his predecessor, I hope you keep him in line and most importantly ask him the right questions.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:19 pm |
  42. John Haury

    President Obama is my president and I support him. I did not vote for him but I will support him in these difficult times.

    It is clear to me that his party leaders are much of the problem and that the president and the republicans are going to have to craft the "Stimulus Bill".

    The democrat congress with few exceptions are totally out of touch with working Americans struggling to keep our jobs or keep our businesses alive. God help us all.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:17 pm |
  43. ann slovacek

    President is doing a great job in talking about problems. Needs to really work on re-doing the stimulus . Nancy P. should be ashamed to put something like this out to the American people.
    I have nothing put hope and good for the president

    February 3, 2009 at 10:16 pm |
  44. Joe Stokes

    Tom Daschle wasn't turned down because of not paying his taxes! If that was the case there would be other nominees turned down!

    Not paying taxes was an "innocent mistake" for Holder and he was still nominated. There is more to it than taxes. Open your eyes!!

    Joe of Toledo

    February 3, 2009 at 10:15 pm |
  45. Justin Time, Canada

    Excellent article, Anderson; and from what I've seen of the interview, well done, too -- but did you ask him about the "Buy America only" clause in the stimulus bill?

    Believe it or not, it may turn out to be the single most important question for American jobs, homes, hopes and futures that should have been asked, in the whole of 2009, since if that clause stays in the stimulus bill, Americans and the world are GUARANTEED to repeat the economic results of the 1930's Smoot-Hawley Tariffs i.e. the recession turns into a GREAT DEPRESSION! Other countries, including wacky sidelined opposition political leaders in Canada are already advocating trade retaliation against the United States! Some people, as in the 1930s will listen to them.

    Oh well, perhaps we are always doomed to repeat the past, since we never seem to learn from history. Good luck, World!

    February 3, 2009 at 10:11 pm |
  46. Clugs

    Remember when Obama said we couldn't keep our thermostat at 72 degrees during the primaries?

    "We can't drive our SUVs and, you know, eat as much as we want and keep our homes on, you know, 72 degrees at all times, whether we're living in the desert or we're living in the tundra, and then just expect every other country is going to say OK, you know, you guys go ahead keep on using 25 percent of the world's energy, even though you only account for 3 percent of the population, and we'll be fine. Don't worry about us. That's not leadership." ~~ Barack Obama

    Well, he's right, that isn't leadership. Apparently he thinks keeping the whitehouse even warmer than 72 degrees is leadership. At least he is comfortable while my family keeps our thermostat right at 65 and throws on a jacket.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:10 pm |
  47. Deena

    Anderson,

    Good Job!!!! VERY GOOD Just.. You asked the tough questions and you did it with respect and regard. Nice job.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:05 pm |
  48. Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    Anderson: It was refreshing to read about your experience today interviewing President Obama. Too bad you only had 10 minutes to ask him questions. I hope you get a chance to interview him again soon so you can ask him those 18 questions you had lined up. I'm curious as to what the questions were and of course, more interested in how the President would have answered them.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:04 pm |
  49. Fay - California

    One of the most impressive things about President Obama during the primaries was his ability to keep calm and steady as he dealt with the more controversial aspects of his campaign, such as the Reverend Wright issue–it's good to see that with the additional pressures of the presidency, he's been able to maintain that. What a refreshing change it is to hear a leader take responsibility for whatever mistakes they make.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:02 pm |
  50. Susan

    Anderson, I watch you nightly... and here you are on now. You are the best! Great at doing all your reporting and anchoring! Gotta go watch live now.

    February 3, 2009 at 10:00 pm |
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